Body wraps combine therapeutic masks — herbal pastes, mineral-rich muds or soothing creams — with thermal coverings. The body mask will contain a mixture of ingredients designed to have a remedial effect on your skin, while the coverings will swathe and warm your body, promoting muscle relaxation, and sweating to cleanse your pores.
Most spas use a few core adjectives to describe their body wrap treatments: slimming, detoxifying, relaxing and hydrating are favourites.
Depending on the wrap you choose, you might notice:
temporary inch loss
softer, firmer, hydrated or cleansed skin
Weight-loss wraps do not make you lose weight, but they may make you temporarily slimmer. Although any initial inch loss will sadly disappear once you drink some water, the wrap experience might just provide the motivation you need to start a healthier diet or fitness programme.
Some wraps are designed to relieve tired or heavy legs and aching joints, and ease inflammation, and may be offered as a treatment for your lower body only.
What to expect from a wrap
You'll undress or change into your paper knickers in privacy. Spa therapists are great at preserving their clients' modesty. Next, you might be treated to a gentle exfoliation or scrub to slough away any dead skin cells. Sometimes body wraps work best when the skin is slightly damp, so your therapist may ask you to take a quick shower, or use warmed, damp flannels on your skin. If the wrap promises inch loss, you'll be measured at various points around your body first, too.
Once your skin has been prepped, your therapist will apply a therapeutic body mask to your torso, and your arms and legs. The content of the mask used depends on the treatment you have chosen. Mud and clay, algae and seaweed, and herbal pastes are common, but fresh fruit, aloe vera or paraffin wax are not unheard of, either. Many spas have their own signature body wraps, from the exotic to the just plain edible. Could you spend an hour coated in chocolate or honey without being tempted to lick...?
After applying the mask to most of your body, your therapist will swaddle you in a plastic sheet and towels, or a thermal blanket, and leave you to rest for around 20 to 40 minutes. If you're having a detoxifying or slimming wrap, you may be wrapped tightly in bandages soaked in a therapeutic solution instead of a warm blanket.
The heat of the wrap will relax your muscles, open your pores and encourage sweating. So, to keep you comfortable, you might have a cold compress placed gently on your forehead.
When you're freed from your cocoon, don't expect an immediate butterfly-like transformation. You might feel quite cold and soggy at first without your thermal blanket -- so the shower afterwards will be welcome. You can scrub away any remaining algae, mud or clay before your therapist massages moisturiser into your newly baby-soft skin.
Different kinds of wrap
Algae: Your therapist applies warmed mineral-rich algae to your body to help nourish and detoxify your skin. The algae comes in the form of a pungent thick paste.
Bust wrap: The aim is to firm and soften the skin. It can be especially good for women trying to tone up after breastfeeding or weight loss.
Cellulite: Designed to boost circulation and flush out toxins, this wrap focuses on bums, tums and/or thighs.
Clay or mud: A layer of soothing clay or mud is applied to the skin to detoxify, cleanse and firm. The mud is thought to ease water retention and cleanse the pores by drawing out impurities. A mud wrap might help with arthritis, rheumatism and minor skin irritations. A mud wrap can feel a bit clammy when it is first applied but soon cocoons you in warmth.
Dry floatation wrap: This is any sort of wrap carried out on a mattress filled with warm water. Some people find the sensation of weightlessness deeply relaxing; this treatment offers the relaxing benefits of wet floatation without having to get into a floatation tank.
Frigi-thalgo: A cold wrap treatment by French spa brand Thalgo, this wrap is designed to control excess fluid in the hip, leg and thigh areas. Frigi-thalgo can provide relief for tired legs as the coldness of the wrap stimulates circulatory changes.
Herbal: Herbs and spices, and herbal essential oils, are often used in wraps for their therapeutic qualities. You may find lavender in a calming or healing wrap, for example. In Ayurvedic treatments, herbs are often ground into a thick, gritty paste that also exfoliates as it is rubbed onto the skin. Occasionally, pieces of cloth are soaked in herb-infused oils and layered over your body to form a wrap.
Paraffin: Melted paraffin wax is brushed over your body and left to solidify. The wax seals moisture in for a softening effect. A paraffin wrap is thought to reduce muscle and joint aches and soothe symptoms of arthritis. It's great for skin in need of intense moisturising.
Parafango: "Fango" is the Italian word for mud. This treatment uses a warmed paraffin and mud mixture to create a mini-sauna effect, stimulating the lymphatic flow in your body and drawing out toxins.
Thalasso or seaweed: Your body is slathered in warm seaweed before you are wrapped in a warm covering. This concentration of seawater and seaweed comes in a thick paste, and doesn't always smell great, it must be said, but its effects are palpable -- it hydrates and firms the skin, and leaves it tingly-fresh.
Being all wrapped up in thermal blankets can feel very strange if you're unable to drift off to sleep. Ask your therapist if there is a choice of music, or ask the spa if you can take your own music to play in your treatment room. It's much easier to relax if you're listening to music that you find soothing. (Spa panpipes don't do it for everyone.)